Preferential voting

In Victoria, we use versions of the preferential voting system. In this system, you choose candidates on a ballot paper in the order of your preference.

If your preferred candidate cannot get enough votes to win, your vote can count for your next preferred candidate.

Full preferential voting

Full preferential voting is used where only one candidate is to be elected.

In Victoria, preferential voting is used in state elections for the lower house (also known as the Legislative Assembly), and local council elections.

In full preferential voting you:

  • write a number 1 in the box for your most-preferred candidate
  • number all remaining boxes in the order you prefer.

If you do not number every box, your vote will not be counted.

Full preferential voting is used in lower house state and local council elections.

Optional preferential voting

Optional preferential voting is used where multiple candidates are to be elected.

In Victoria, optional preferential voting is used in state elections for the upper house (also known as the Legislative Council), and Melbourne City Council elections.

In optional preferential voting you don't have to fill in all the boxes on the ballot paper.

There will be a thick, black line across the page in ballot papers for the upper house.

You can vote above the line or below the line.

Always follow the instructions on the ballot paper so your vote is counted.

Above the line

If you choose to vote above the line:

  • write the number 1 in the box for the group of you want to support.
  • leave the rest of the ballot paper blank.
  • do not write any numbers below the line.

By voting above the line, your preferences will be directed to the candidates below the line in order with the group voting ticket(s) registered by the group you’ve chosen.

A group voting ticket (GVT) is a statement on how each party or group gives preferences to candidates. Every registered group voting ticket will be published on this website before an election. They will also be on display in every voting centre.

Below the line

In a state election

The boxes below the line represent each candidate. They are listed by group and ungrouped.

If you choose to vote below the line:

  • write the number 1 in the box next to the candidate who is your first choice
  • write the number 2 in the box next to the candidate who is your second choice
  • continue writing numbers 3, 4, 5 and so on until you have numbered at least 5 boxes.
  • do not write any numbers above the line.

You can continue numbering more than 5 candidates, but for your vote to be counted you must number at least 5 boxes, as you are electing 5 members in the upper house.

By voting below the line, you decide your preferences.

In a local council election

The only council that uses optional preferential voting is Melbourne City Council, and that's only for their councillor election (not their lord mayor election).

If you choose to vote below the line in a Melbourne City Council election, you must number all boxes.

Formal and informal votes

A correctly completed ballot paper is known as a formal vote. Formal votes are counted to determine the result of the election.

A ballot paper that has not been completed correctly is known as an informal vote. Informal votes cannot be counted toward the election result.

A ballot paper is considered informal if it:

  • has ticks or crosses
  • does not number all boxes
  • misses or repeats numbers
  • uses a zero (0)
  • leaves the ballot paper entirely blank.

Donkey votes

A ballot paper that is numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (and so on) in the same order that the candidates are listed, is known as a ‘donkey vote’.

A donkey vote could be a voter not understanding how to vote, not caring how they vote, or could actually express the voter’s true preferences.

If all the boxes are correctly numbered, donkey votes are formal and count toward the election result.

What if there aren't enough candidates?

If after nominations close the number of candidates is the same as the number of vacancies, those candidates are elected without the need for a vote. This is called being elected 'unopposed'.

If nobody nominates as a candidate, no voting takes place and another election is held as soon as possible.

For local council elections, if there are fewer candidates than vacancies, the candidates who nominated are declared elected. A by-election is held for the remaining vacancies.